Velazquez Calls for Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Hacking
Washington, DC – On Tuesday, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking that, before leaving office, the Attorney General appoint a Special Counsel to investigate the role cyberattacks played in the 2016 election.
“I would request you empower this Counsel to continue their inquiry until all relevant facts have been unearthed, which will likely require their work to continue into the next Administration,” Velázquez’s letter states. “As you are aware, nothing in statute or existing regulations requires a Special Counsel to circumscribe, alter or end their investigation with a change in Administration or the confirmation of a new Attorney General.”
The full text of the letter is below.
December 20, 2016
The Honorable Loretta Lynch
United States Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Lynch:
First, let me thank you for your service and commitment to upholding justice and the law during your tenure as Attorney General.
I am writing to request that, before leaving office, you use your statutory authority to appoint a Special Counsel tasked with examining Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the role cyberattacks played in the election and any involvement or knowledge by American citizens. It would be my expectation that such a Special Counsel would continue its work into the new Administration, free of interference, as provided for under the statute and regulations.
While President Obama has called for a report to be issued by the intelligence community and Congressional hearings may be held, the Department of Justice still has an important role to play in determining what laws may have been broken and who in the United States or elsewhere may be legally culpable.
There are a number of reasons for the Department to assign a Special Counsel. Given the complexity of the topic, it is almost certain that the information to be released in January by the intelligence community and the White House will be a starting point for additional investigation, not the conclusion of this matter. In addition, no timeline has been set for Congressional hearings and, if held in the House or Senate Intelligence Committees, the content of those hearings may not be available to the public. Moreover, while there are legislative efforts underway to establish a Commission or a Select Congressional Committee to examine these events, it is unclear when, if at all, those bills will receive consideration.
The information that has been publicly reported in the media to date is profoundly troubling. Initial revelations that Democratic party IT systems had been compromised were worrisome enough; subsequent reports suggesting hackers were trying to benefit a specific candidate and harm certain Congressional candidates by launching cyberattacks and leaking sensitive information are even more alarming. Recent suggestions in the media that our intelligence community believes these operations may have been directed by the President of Russia have only further elevated these concerns .
It is equally disturbing that one longtime informal advisor to the Republican nominee claimed publically that he had engaged in “back channel” communications with WikiLeaks . In addition, there are known previous business ties between some members of the President-elect’s campaign staff and pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine .
As the federal agency tasked with protecting the integrity of the U.S. electoral system, DOJ has an important obligation to investigate these matters vigorously. However, given the sensitivity of these events, it is critical that any investigation be independent and avoid even the appearance of interference by political appointees from either party.
The authority to appoint a Special Counsel exists precisely for situations like this. Under the law, a Special Counsel can be appointed when there are “extraordinary circumstances” and “it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.” Given the unprecedented nature of these events and the importance of informing the public about what has transpired, I urge you to exercise this prerogative before leaving office.
Furthermore, I would request you empower this Counsel to continue their inquiry until all relevant facts have been unearthed, which will likely require their work to continue into the next Administration. As you are aware, nothing in statute or existing regulations requires a Special Counsel to circumscribe, alter or end their investigation with a change in Administration or the confirmation of a new Attorney General. For these reasons a Special Counsel would be well equipped to conduct the vigorous investigatory oversight to bring all facts to light, helping restore many Americans’ confidence in our electoral system.
It is vital the American people understand the exact nature of how Russia sought to influence our electoral process through cyberattacks and that those who perpetrated or facilitated these attacks be held legally responsible. You could help ensure these matters are addressed before leaving office by establishing a Special Counsel.
Thank you for your review of this time sensitive request. I look forward to your swift response.
Nydia M. Velázquez
Member of Congress
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